French Oak & Forest Sustainability

The provision of high quality and sustainable French oak is our main business, and we conduct frequent trips across the Channel to pick it up and bring it back to our base in Newhaven, East Sussex.

Sussex Oak works with more than a dozen French saw mills to ensure we’ve got a consistent supply coming into our yard – and we think it’s important any French oak we deal with is processed with a strong focus on sustainability.

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All our French oak therefore comes from sustainable and managed forests.

France is renowned for its expertise on sustainable forest management. Their forests are intensively managed, with the preservation of the natural eco-system a priority to ensure that no lasting damage is done to the landscape.

Sustainable forests in France through the years

France has a long history of sustainable forestry. These areas have been in existence since the 17th century, with the French court at the time deeming a good surplus of workable timber vital to the ongoing national interests of the country.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s minister of finances, had framed the restrictions as imperative for the future of the realm: “France perira faute de bois!” (France will perish for want of wood!), he warned, lest its looming timber shortages put it at an economic and strategic disadvantage relative to its maritime rivals.

Oak in particular was crucial at this time, due to its use in the production of the ribbing in the hulls of ships.

And, bar a brief removal of the stringent rules over sustained forests (during the French Revolution, of course!), such restrictions have remained in place ever since.

1827 saw the introduction of the first ‘Forest Code’, at a time where France’s proportion of land covered by forest was the lowest it’s been before or since. Wood burning was the main source of energy production until the 1850s, hence its national importance.

Generally, the introduction, implementation and evolution of woodland policy was a constant source of contention from the 17th through 19th centuries, with varying political, economical and ideological viewpoints clashing over the management of these lands.

For instance, was it better to see the forests as nothing more than a resource creator for the state? Or was there a duty to the natural environment, and in turn help people that relied on its continued biodiversity?

In contemporary times, however, growing environmental concerns and other similar factors has now seen ‘the powers that be’ be more readily concerned with maintaining the natural status quo.

This responsible, long-term outlook – combined with various directives from the European Union – means that the French National Forestry Office (ONF) now oversees the running of forests that amount to over a quarter of total French territory.

Moreover, the saw mills that use these sustainable forests are overseen by the French National Association of Sawmills (FNB).

The FNB is responsible for the rules regarding the grading and drying of sustainable oak; this helps ensure consistency in quality of the finished oak.

There are three main grades of fresh sawn oak; QPA, QP1 and QP2. You can find out more about each of the gradings in our previous blog post on the subject.

How sustainable forests work

Oak is a very popular material in building and landscaping, hence the need for a consistent supply.

Sustainable forests therefore work on a cyclical basis, to ensure there’s never a gap in what’s being produced.

The ONF determine a 25 to 30 year period optimal for proper sustainability.

Here’s how it’s done:

To start with, seedlings are planted in a greenhouse, and remain there until they’ve taken root and are on their way to becoming an established tree.

After approximately five years the seedlings are dug up and re-planted in the sustainable forests to continue their growth. They’ll remain here until they are felled.

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At the ten year stage, with the young trees starting to really grow, they’re thinned out to allow proper space for the remaining trees to flourish.

At around the 25 to 30 year mark they’re ready for felling. In this period the trees are carefully scrutinised to make sure they’re cut down at exactly the right time to provide the best end product.

Following being felled, the oak trees are moved on to the saw mills. Here they’re processed into the finished product – this might involve simply sawing them into shape, or a kiln might be used to dry out the wood.

The gaps that remains from the felled trees are then filled by the seedlings making their way out of the warehouse.

Sustainable French oak delivered nationwide

We can deliver freshly sawn and kiln-dried oak beams, planks, flooring or mouldings across the United Kingdom.

If you’re interested in purchasing some oak from Sussex Oak, check out our product category page. Alternatively, send us a message if you want to discuss any projects you may be working on.